Cassie Matlock speaks like the grizzled veteran, even though she has just recently graduated from college.
She even laughs at herself as she talks about how she’s been playing softball “a long time,” like the 22-year-old has been at it for decades.
The University of West Alabama outfielder put the wraps on a decorated post-secondary playing career this spring by picking up several acknowledgements including the Division II Conference Commissioner’s Associations First Team All-South Region and Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association All-American Third Team.
She finished the year with a .374 batting average with six doubles, three home runs, 14 runs batted in and eight stolen bases in 34 games.
“It’s been such a journey getting to where I am right now that this year has kind of put the icing on the cake for me,” Matlock told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. “In the middle of the season, I didn’t really realize the trend that I was on and it felt like a lot more of a struggle than it turned out to be.”
She adds it’s been a year of growth and learning, both on and off the field, that she’s grateful to have gone through.
One of the biggest lessons that Matlock has learned over the past year has been about confidence.
The Tigers have had their struggles in recent years, but were able to persevere and put together a final record of 28-25, making it to the GSC final tournament.
“It was really nice for me to be able to invest more into the team than athletically and physically, I think,” Matlock said. “I got to create a lot of really good friendships and connections with my teammates that were far beyond just athletics.”
As a senior, she was also able to become more of a leader, with those relationships helping foster that growth.
The 5-foot-9 Exercise Science major credits her head coach, Stephanie Defeo, with helping build her confidence.
“Personally, when I struggled, it was mostly because I became really problem-focused,” she said. “Especially being an outfielder, if you make an error and a run scores, it’s there for the world to see. So me learning to focus more so on the solutions rather than the problems became a huge difference-maker for me.”
Her confidence and performance was so strong that, in the final game of the Gulf South Conference Softball Championship Tournament, Matlock was intentionally walked in what turned out to be her final college at-bat.
She went on to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
While Matlock was able to elevate her play on the field, she admits to having he struggles away from the diamond.
The Archbishop O’Leary High School grad had become no stranger to traveling to chase her softball dreams, as growing up in Alberta meant a lot of miles in the family car to get from one game to the next.
Matlock had also excelled during her first stint in post-secondary with Lindsey Wilson College, including being named MSC Softball Co-Freshman of the Year in 2018 and to the NAIA Softball World Series All-Tournament Team in 2019.
However, being away from home started to take its toll, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, during the first semester of her second year, came the diagnosis that she has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“It was a relief to realize that I wasn’t the problem,” Matlock said. “To realize that I’m not lazy and all those things that come with it.”
She says learning to manage and cope with the different aspects of being a student-athlete became her biggest goal, with everything from time management and prioritization to proper sleeping and eating habits.
THANKING A SPORT
Matlock feels that, while the last year or two have been difficult at times, she is better for it – and her fire for the game still burns bright.
After finishing out her season with the University of West Alabama, she went straight to an identification camp for Softball Canada’s national team and plans to play for the Calahoo Erins, who are gunning for a third-straight national championship.
“I still want to keep playing,” Matlock said. “This sport has been such a big part of my life for so long and I do have the opportunity to keep playing, so why hang them up if I don’t have to?”
She also wants to remain involved in the grassroots to keep growing the game, starting with coaching the St. Albert Angels.
“I’m trying to hopefully pass along everything I’ve learned and give other girls the opportunities that I was lucky enough to have,” Matlock said.
“If you can see it, you can be it” is a mantra she subscribes to.
When she looks back at her career and achievements, you can hear the gratitude in her voice, something that was echoed in an Instagram post she made for World Softball Day:
“To the sport that gave me a home when I felt like I didn’t belong, a voice when I felt small, and the courage to be who I am meant to be /
To the sport that forced me to take up space, and to push the boundaries of who I am expected to be/
To the sport that proved to me that I should always bet on myself/
To the sport that showed me that I am the only one who can decide what I deserve/
While this chapter of her career might be over, Matlock is certain to have an impact on the game in the years to come.